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May 26, 2020

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Work starts in Montana on crude oil pipeline

Disputed Keystone XL project was long tied up in legal fight

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FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2019 file photo, opponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada demonstrate in sub-freezing temperatures in Billings, Mont. Alberta is investing $1.1 billion in the disputed Keystone XL pipeline, a project that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says is crucial for the province's economy.
FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2019 file photo, opponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada demonstrate in sub-freezing temperatures in Billings, Mont. Alberta is investing $1.1 billion in the disputed Keystone XL pipeline, a project that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says is crucial for the province's economy. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File) Photo Gallery

BILLINGS, Mont. — A Canadian company said Monday that it’s started construction on the long-stalled Keystone XL oil sands pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border despite calls from tribal leaders and environmentalists to delay the $8 billion project amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesman for TC Energy said work began over the weekend at the border crossing in northern Montana, a remote area with sprawling cattle ranches and wheat fields. About 100 workers are involved initially, but that number is expected to swell into the thousands in coming months as work proceeds, according to the company.

The 1,200-mile pipeline was proposed in 2008 and would carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude daily for transfer to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s been tied up for years in legal battles and several court challenges are still pending, including one that’s due before a judge next week.

TC Energy’s surprise announcement last week that it intended to start construction came after the provincial government in Alberta invested $1.1 billion to jump start work. Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality on Friday issued the final state permits the company needed, agency spokeswoman Rebecca Harbage said.

Leaders of American Indian tribes and some residents of rural communities along the pipeline route worry that workers could spread the coronavirus. As many as 11 construction camps, some housing up to 1,000 people, were initially planned for the project, although TC Energy says those are under review because of the virus.

TC Energy says it plans to check everyone entering worksites for fever and ensure workers practice social distancing.

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